Since 2006, NASA's HiRISE camera has been orbiting the Red Planet aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, snapping photos of the planet's surface. In that time, it's also managed to photograph several of NASA's biggest Martian milestones as they happen. This is an image of one of those milestones.
Specifically, this is a photograph of the Curiosity rover and its tracks. Granted, we've had photographs of Curiosity's first tracks since August, but those were photographed by the rover itself. This photo, on the other hand, was captured from Mars orbit.
We've seen a handful of HiRISE photos of Curiosity and its landing hardware since the rover touched down last month, but this photo of the Mars Science Laboratory making its first tracks (not to mention two additional images, featured below, showing the parachute, backshell and descent stage crash site, also in color) are arguably the most stunning HiRISE images since it photographed the rover descending to the planet's surface.
So enjoy the view. Click here to visit the HiRISE website and download them in hi-res. According to HiRISE Principle Investigator Alfred McEwen, keeping an eye on Curiosity's tracks over time will offer NASA scientists valuable information on how the planet's surface changes over time, as dust is deposited and eroded by "aeolian processes" (a fancy way of saying wind), so there will be plenty more HiRISE captured images of Curiosity to come. We'll be sure to let you know when they arrive.
The parachute and backshell, in color. The outer band of the parachute has a reddish color.
Descent stage crash site, in color, and several distant spots (blue in enhanced color) downrange that are probably the result of distant secondary impacts that disturbed the surface dust.
All images via NASA HiRISE/JPL/University of Arizona; Captions by Alfred McEwen